Major General Jagatbir Singh comments upon the recent agreement regarding the withdrawal of troops from the Northern and Southern banks of the Pangong Tso reached after prolonged and numerous rounds of talks.
A stark reality that we cannot wish away is that at this point of time China is far more powerful than us in economic and military terms. It is not possible for us to match their rate of growth at present. If we want to concentrate on the social and economic development of our nation and as the Chinese did ─ “bide our time”─ we need to resolve the issue of our Northern borders. While many analysts talk of the benefit of being part of the QUAD, forging closer ties with the US and exploiting the maritime domain; as a nation the unvarnished fact is that as far as the continental battle space is concerned ─ we fight alone.
Most people are unaware of the nuances and manner of holding an IB (International Border), LoC (Line of Control), AGPL (Actual Ground Position Line) and the LAC (Line of Actual Control). However, the dynamics of holding each differ and their implications are fully understood by the troops on ground and their commanders. The last thing on the military commander’s agenda is to convert the LAC into an LoC because then you are looking at a far greater commitment in terms of deployments which then need sustenance.
Both India and China are nuclear states and our armies have been engaged in a tense standoff. It is a matter of great maturity and restraint on the part of both neighbours not to have let the tensions spiral out of control and have engaged in talks to arrive at an understanding. While the talks may have been prolonged and at times it was felt that no breakthrough was in the offing; the mere fact that there was no breakdown was an achievement hence the criticism being levelled regarding the withdrawal seems to be unjustified or due to a lack of comprehension or politico-military understanding.
Whether ‘status quo ante’ has been restored or whether ‘ both sides have agreed to fall back to their positions prior to May 2020 and not patrol the area between Fingers 4 & 8’ should not be seen in terms of victory or loss and ceding national territory. Disengagement is not like a switch which can be flipped to stop or start an action. Multiple steps constitute its implementation; locations to be vacated, timings, quantum of troops to be pulled out from rear areas, structures to be dismantled and removed and steps to prevent any incident are amongst some of the issues. It therefore needs to be phased and coordinated. We also need to remove the trust deficit that exists. As a nation we need to be aware of these realities.
While the approach in the talks has been to resolve the issue sector wise, there are a large number of opinions regarding surrendering the tactical advantage in the Kailash Range as we were dominating the PLA Camp at Sumdo and had the advantage of monitoring any movement from the Spangur Gap towards Chushul. However, while the disengagement is on, the ability to monitor this area and the positioning of troops in the near vicinity to thwart any designs by our adversary remains. This is a historic opportunity to resolve the contentious issues regarding the legacy issue of our borders with China. There is no doubt that there are differing perceptions regarding the LAC. Two former commanders in Ladakh have stated that “the LAC as a concept keeps varying in the minds of the Chinese themselves” and “both sides are defending an undefined borderline”.
With strong political leaders in both India and China it is imperative that this issue of unresolved borders be resolved. Existing protocols that have been weakened also need to be examined afresh and strengthened. We need to work towards conflict resolution and not indulge in brinksmanship. What has been clearly demonstrated is that as a nation we are not seeking conflict, while at the same time we have the ability and resolve to stand up for our territorial integrity and sovereignty. The aim is peace and tranquillity on our borders. However, to achieve this we need to continue to develop our infrastructure and enhance the capabilities of our Armed Forces. Fair bilateral agreements are reached when both sides respect the others strength.
Major General Jagatbir Singh, VSM (Retd) is a Distinguished Fellow at the United Service Institution of India (USI), New Delhi.
Article uploaded on: 15-02-2021
Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the organisation that he belongs to or of the USI of India.